Notes: Which starter will relieve?
More than likely, Lieber or Eaton will leave rotation for 'pen
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Jon Lieber or Adam Eaton?That continues to be the question should the Phillies open the season with six starting pitchers, as is becoming more likely, So which of those two will shift from starter to reliever? "It's decision we have to make," manager Charlie Manuel said. "Right now, that's what it looks like." Manuel looked solemn after Monday's loss to Pittsburgh, and not just because of a 1-5 stretch in Grapefruit League games. With general manager Pat Gillick acknowledging that likelihood of the Phillies having six starters on Opening Day, Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee must select who can help most in the bullpen. "A lot of things go through my mind," Manuel said. "We're still discussing things.?" Is it unfair to ask an established Major League starter to pitch in relief? "I don't know about that," he said. "People ask me a lot of things I think are unfair. This is a game. If it makes us better to do something, believe me, I'm all for doing it. And I'm sure that player probably is, too." Lieber turns 37 on Opening Day, has been a 20-game winner, and hasn't pitched in relief since 1996. Eaton, 29, signed a three-year, $24.5 million contract to start. Though not offering specifics, Manuel may have offered a glimpse into his thinking. Asked if he was concerned about an adjustment period for the starter in question, he said, "That could happen, but it could go the other way, too. If the guy's a strike- thrower, he stands a chance of getting them out." If nothing else, Lieber has always been a strike-thrower. He walked just 24 in 168 innings last season, and 41 in 218 1/3 innings in '05. He's an aggressive pitcher who attacks hitters. There was concern about his fielding, since teams bunt in crucial late situations, when Lieber might be pitching. "I'm not even thinking about it," Lieber said, about whether he's following the situation. "You can't worry about it." If told he was a reliever, Lieber said, "It would definitely be an adjustment, and I can't worry about that." Eaton, who allowed three runs on eight hits in five innings on Monday, is approaching this spring as a starter, which is the reason he signed a three-year, $24.5 million contract. He hasn't been told otherwise. Eaton maintains that a lot can happen between now and Opening Day, when teams in need of starting pitching may raise their offering price. "Things are still going to shake out, and [general manager Pat Gillick] says he can't trade anybody, but I don't think a trade has come up that he wants to do," Eaton said. "I can't predict anything." Feeling bad: Ryan Howard said he's feeling "terrible" at the plate. For the National League's Most Valuable Player, that's probably a good thing. "I'm making some strides," he said. "Getting the dust off." Howard felt awful last spring while hitting 11 homers as a prelude to his MVP season. Part of it was physical (he came to Florida with the flu) and part was mechanical. This spring, he's hitting .306 with two homers and three doubles, with a .409 on-base percentage -- but has struck out 12 times.
"He's not seeing the ball good, and pulling off," Manuel said. "I'm not worried about Ryan Howard. If he's patient like last year, he'll get balls to hit and he'll hit them."Howard knows he's often too hard on himself, and he understands he can have another fantastic season and still not improve on last season's numbers, when he hit 58 homers, drove in 149 runs and batted .313. Life is tough when you have to live up to lofty goals. But Howard prefers to stay relaxed, joking with reporters about going to an "'80s night" at a local dance club and discussing "Family Ties" characters. He considers himself a hitter rather than a slugger. "I like to [think that]," Howard said. "You can't hit homers unless you make contact." "Being a hitter is why he hit 58 [homers]," Manuel said. "If he keeps the same demeanor, and work ethic, he'll be fine." Not happy: Manuel had his second outfield tirade in as many springs last Thursday before a night game against Toronto, after seeing too many mental mistakes and sloppy play. The speech wasn't as animated as last year's, but delivered a similar message. "I told them it was time to step it up," Manuel said. "I said, 'Don't get sloppy. It's time to be ready to win when the season starts.' I think I made myself pretty clear. We don't want to get behind again. We want to win our division, not be behind in May and have somebody start writing about the wild card." The Phillies, 7-12-1, are 1-5 since he made the speech. Roster reduction: The Phillies trimmed their roster by six on Monday, including four pitchers who were competing for what is believed to be one bullpen spot. Infielder Danny Sandoval and right-hander Brian Sanches were optioned to Minor League camp, and Ryan Cameron and Kane Davis and first baseman Randall Simon were reassigned. The sixth, right-hander Justin Germano, was lost when the Padres claimed him during the waiver process. Germano had no options, meaning he had to be exposed by the other 29 teams before he could be sent to the Minors. Germano, acquired last July from the Reds for Rheal Cormier, is going to a familiar situation. He was drafted by the Padres in 2000 and spent five seasons in that organization. Despite Germano's 4.50 ERA in eight Grapefruit League innings, the Phillies felt he didn't fit in their plans. "I thought I was right there. I thought it was going to come down to the wire," said Germano, who will continue his fight for a bullpen job with the Padres. "They know me pretty well, and I feel I've matured over the last couple of years. If I stay relaxed, things will just work out for the best." The cuts leave Joe Bisenius, Jim Ed Warden, Eude Brito, Fabio Castro and Clay Condrey competing for a job. The final spot will be filled by either Jon Lieber or Adam Eaton or a reliever who might be acquired in a trade. No pressure: Rather than dealing with added adrenaline of a night game against the Yankees, Cole Hamels will face Devil Rays' Minor Leaguers on Tuesday in St. Petersburg. The goal is for Hamels to work on throwing his curveball and fastball, especially inside. If he faced the Yankees, the club feels he'd be too tempted to use his changeup to get out of jams. "I've been struggling on timing," Hamels said. "I've been working on it in the bullpen, and it felt a lot better in the past couple of days." So no Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez, or any other Yankees star. "It's better to calm down a little, and just go out there and get my work done," Hamels said. "[Spring Training] is to get me to April 1. I know for myself, I feel like I've been getting better. I'm trying to peak at the end." Cape Fehr: Major League Baseball Players Association executive director and general counsel Donald Fehr discussed union matters with players in a lengthy morning meeting, part of his annual spring visit to all 30 camps. With the game flush in the wake of a new collective barganing agreement -- announced last fall -- Fehr was jovial. Fehr remained positive about the inaugural World Baseball Classic last year and sees baseball expanding globally some day. This led to the possibility of a real World Series between the United States and Japanese champions. "Sooner or later it will be an idea whose time has come," Fehr said. "And if the WBC catches on, that only enhances the possibility." Logisitcal issues must be worked out, such as length of season and television rights before that can become a reality. Also, on the recent steroid controversy regarding Angels' outfielder Gary Matthews Jr., Fehr said: "It's a balancing act between the right to privacy of individuals and trying to be sure players don't engage in inappropriate conduct," Fehr said. You do the best you can. The [testing] plan is working well as far as we know." Quotable: "I thought I heard the train the other night and thought it was him, but he said it wasn't." -- Eaton, joking about Lieber's mammoth monster truck Up next: The Phils head to Tampa on Tuesday to take on the Yankees at 7:15 p.m. ET. Right-hander Zack Segovia will get the ball in his third outing for the Philadelphia, and he'll be followed by Ryan Madson and Antonio Alfonseca. Left-hander Kei Igawa will start for New York.
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.